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Angus Wilson

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Angus Wilson

BornAngus Frank Johnstone-Wilson[1]
(1913-08-11)11 August 1913[2]
Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex,[2] England
Died31 May 1991(1991-05-31) (aged 77)[2]
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk,[2] England
Resting placeWest Suffolk Crematorium, Risby, St Edmundsbury Borough, Suffolk, United Kingdom
EducationWestminster School
Alma materMerton College, Oxford
Notable worksAnglo-Saxon Attitudes (1956)
The Middle Age of Mrs Eliot (1958)
Notable awardsJames Tait Black Memorial Prize (1958)
CBE (1968)
Knight Bachelor (1980)
PartnerTony Garrett

Sir Angus Frank Johnstone-Wilson, CBE (11 August 1913 – 31 May 1991) was an English novelist and short story writer. He was one of England's first openly gay authors.[3] He was awarded the 1958 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Middle Age of Mrs Eliot and later received a knighthood for his services to literature.[4]


Westminster School

Wilson was born in Bexhill, Sussex, England, to an English father, William Johnstone-Wilson, and South African mother, Maude (née Caney), of a wealthy merchant family of Durban.[5][6][7] Wilson's grandfather had served in a prestigious Scottish army regiment, and owned an estate in Dumfriesshire, where William Johnstone-Wilson (despite being born at Haymarket) was raised, and where he subsequently lived.[6][7]

Wilson was educated at Westminster School and Merton College, Oxford,[8] and in 1937 became a librarian in the British Museum's Department of Printed Books, working on the new General Catalogue.[5] Previous employment included tutoring, catering, and co-managing a restaurant with his brother.[9]

During World War II, he worked in the Naval section at the code-breaking establishment, Bletchley Park, translating Italian Naval codes. A wearer of large, brightly coloured bow-ties and shirts, Sinclair McKay described him as one of the "famous homosexuals" at Bletchley. He was billeted with a "kind family" in the village of Simpson, who worried about his "prodigious consumption" of cigarettes by coughing theatrically. They only read (and re-read) John Bunyan's The Holy War. The "claustrophobia" of the billet may have contributed to his increasing depression and his "Pompeiian mood swings". The work situation was stressful and led to a nervous breakdown, for which he was treated by Rolf-Werner Kosterlitz. A colleague said when he threw an inkpot at a Wren that "Angus isn't really mad. He threw inkpots at all the right people!" [10]

A Wren, Dorothy Robertson, was taught traffic analysis by Wilson and another instructor. She recalled him as:[11]

a brilliant young homosexual .... He used to mince into the room wearing, in those days, outrageous clothes in all colours; he chain-smoked; his nails were bitten down to the quick and he had a rather hysterical laugh.

Wilson returned to the Museum after the end of the war, and it was there that he met Tony Garrett (born 1929), who was to be his companion for the rest of his life. Years later their life together was sympathetically portrayed in the BBC2 film "Angus and Tony" (1984), directed by Jonathan Gili. It was one of the first depictions of the life of a gay couple on British television.[citation needed]

Wilson's first publication was a collection of short stories, The Wrong Set (1949), followed quickly by the daring novel Hemlock and After, which was a great success, prompting invitations to lecture in Europe.[12]

Wilson worked as a reviewer, and in 1955 he resigned from the British Museum to write full-time (although his financial situation did not justify doing so) and moved to Suffolk.[citation needed]

He was instrumental in getting Colin Wilson's first novel published in 1956[13] and from 1957 he gave lectures further afield, in Japan, Switzerland, Australia, and the USA. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1968 New Year Honours,[14] and received many literary honours in succeeding years. He was made a Knight Bachelor in the 1980 Birthday Honours,[15] and was President of the Royal Society of Literature from 1982 to 1988. His remaining years were affected by ill health, and he died of a stroke at a nursing home in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, on 31 May 1991, aged 77.[2]

Wilson's writing, which has a strongly satirical vein, expresses his concern with preserving a liberal humanistic outlook in the face of fashionable doctrinaire temptations. Several of his works were adapted for television. He was Professor of English Literature at the University of East Anglia from 1966 to 1978,[16] and jointly helped to establish their creative writing course at masters level in 1970,[17] which was then a groundbreaking initiative in the United Kingdom.[5]

Wilson's medals, then in private ownership, were shown on the BBC Television programme Antiques Roadshow in August 2018.[18]



Short story collections[edit]

  • The Wrong Set (1949)
  • Such Darling Dodos (1950)
  • A Bit Off the Map (1957)
  • Death Dance (selected stories, 1969)


  • The Mulberry Bush (1955)


  • Emile Zola: An Introductory Study of his Novels (1952)
  • For Whom the Cloche Tolls: a Scrapbook of the Twenties (1953)
  • The Wild Garden or Speaking of Writing (1963)
  • The World of Charles Dickens (1970)
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Penguin Classics (1974) Introduction
  • The Naughty Nineties (1976)
  • The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works (1977)
  • Diversity and Depth in Fiction: Selected Critical Writings of Angus Wilson (1983)
  • Reflections In A Writer's Eye: travel pieces by Angus Wilson (1986)


  1. ^ Guide to the Angus Wilson Papers. Biographical Note. Archived 6 July 2018 at the Wayback Machine The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa, accessed 8 March 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Sir Angus Wilson". The Times. 3 June 1991. p. 16. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  3. ^ Gerstner, David A. (2006). Routledge International Encyclopedia of Queer Culture. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. p. 615. ISBN 0-415-30651-5.
  4. ^ MacKay, Marina (8 January 2001). "Sir Angus Wilson". The Literary Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  5. ^ a b c "Wilson, Sir Angus (Frank Johnstone), (11 Aug. 1913–31 May 1991), author; Professor of English Literature, University of East Anglia, 1966–78, then Emeritus". WHO'S WHO & WHO WAS WHO. 2007. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u176296. ISBN 978-0-19-954089-1. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  6. ^ a b Angus Wilson, Averil Gardner, Twayne Publishers, 1985, pg 4
  7. ^ a b Angus Wilson, Jay L. Halio, Oliver & Boyd, 1964, pg 1
  8. ^ Levens, R. G. C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900–1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. pp. 239–240.
  9. ^ Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, vol. 2, R. Reginald, Mary A. Burgess, Douglas Menville, 1979, pg 1130
  10. ^ McKay, Sinclair (2016). Bletchley Park: The Secret Archives. London: Aurum Press. pp. 83, 84. ISBN 978-1-78131-534-7.
  11. ^ Smith, Michael (2000). The Emperor's Codes: Bletchley Park and the breaking of Japan's secret ciphers. London: Bantam Press. p. 210. ISBN 0593-046412.
  12. ^ Drabble, Margaret (3 May 2008). "Back – due to popular demand: Margaret Drabble on Hemlock and After, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes and No Laughing Matter by Angus Wilson". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  13. ^ Desert Island Discs Archive: 1976–1980
  14. ^ "No. 44484". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 December 1967. p. 11.
  15. ^ "No. 48212". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 1980. p. 2.
  16. ^ "WILSON, Sir Angus (Frank Johnstone)". Who Was Who. A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. November 2012. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  17. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Angus Wilson". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 28 September 2006.
  18. ^ "Helmingham Hall 3". Antiques Roadshow. Series 40. Episode 22. 19 August 2018. BBC Television. Retrieved 19 August 2018.


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